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2015 and the rise of the introvert party jam

Alessia Cara's music video for "Here."
Alessia Cara's music video for "Here."
Alessia Cara
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Back in 2014, a troubadour by the name of Lil Jon, along with hypnotic tunemaker DJ Snake, captured the heart of the nation. "Turn down for what? Turn down for what? Turn down for what? Turn down for what? Turn down for what?" their song proclaimed, a defiant, rhetorical battle cry against stopping a party for anything. Not for lentils. Not for morning yoga. Not for an early business meeting. Not for the police.

But Lil Jon and DJ Snake's nonstop party is just a fantasy, for most of us anyway. In fact, I'm positive that tonight, on New Year's Eve, there's a high probability you'll attend a party that's much more terrible, one where you'll wait 45 minutes for an open bar that you paid for, only to be served an aggressively mediocre vodka tonic. Or maybe you'll be shuffling around a friend of a friend's loft with a bunch of people you don't know, trying to talk to complete strangers about how you met the host.

Parties are never that fun. Often, they're actually pretty bad. And in 2015, a new genre of music emerged to reflect that: introvert, antisocial party jams.

What is the introvert party jam?

The introvert party jam is, quite simply, about someone who's having a miserable time at a party. And while these songs have grown in popularity this year, it's not exactly a new phenomenon. People have been partying and having bad times at those parties since the world was young. Lesley Gore's 1963 hit "It's My Party" is pretty much the standard:

Gore is singing about Johnny, the dingbat apple of her eye. He's been missing, and so has a dodgy harlot known as Judy. Gore has orchestrated a party specifically to get with Johnny, but it's just falling to pieces.

"Why was he holding her hand," Gore sings, "when he's supposed to be mine?"

There have been other antisocial party songs since Gore's, but most of them are a bit more subtle. More recent ones don't have anything to do with being slighted, or really with any strong feeling at all. Instead, the songs' collective "atmosphere" is one of aggressive ambivalence in a party setting.

The grandma to this new crop of tunes is Lorde's "Royals":

Lorde, a being conjured by the guardians of the watchtower of the east and the living embodiment of Mannoh, wasn't exactly singing about a party that she was at, but rather about the unrealistic party imagery that so much of today's music repeatedly shoves down our throats. She sings:

But every song's like:

Gold teeth / Grey Goose / Tripping in the bathroom

Bloodstains / Ball gowns / Trashing the hotel room

We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams

But everybody's like:

Cristal / Maybach

Diamonds on your timepiece

Jet planes / Islands / Tigers on a gold leash

We don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair

Lorde's fight is primarily about class, sure, but it's also wrapped around the idea of how people use their money to have a good time and what the resulting good times look like. Now that she's found worldwide success, Lorde probably has the money to throw a party with a tiger or three, but if her lyrics are any indication, she'd probably rather be smoking weed in some abandoned one-bedroom house with a cat named Roy Roy.

In 2015, Alessia Cara cornered the market on having a bad time at the party

Alessia Cara exploded onto the music scene right before summer this year. The sleepy-eyed, smoky-voiced 18-year-old's single "Here" has become a mainstay on the Billboard charts. And she begins it with, "I'm sorry if I seem uninterested, or I'm not listenin' or I'm indifferent …"

"Here" does the opposite of the classic party song. There's no immediacy to it. There's no tease. Cara's opening line is a pallid invitation, a disclaimer explaining that what's ahead — if you decide to stay and listen to it — isn't going to knock your socks off.

If there's a familiarity to "Here," it's because the bass line is transported from Portishead's 1995 dreamy hit "Glory Box" (and Tricky's "Hell Is Around the Corner" and Isaac Hayes's "Ike Rap 2"). Portishead is one of those bands that regularly seem to pop up on everyone's Netflix-and-chill playlists but never anywhere else. But as that ethereal Portishead beat begins to snap, Cara's disclaimer turns into a full-on ramble.

As the song approaches the 30-second mark, we find out why she's rambling. "Here" is not a drunken tirade, or the slurred rant of someone who doesn't have her thoughts together. It's beautifully sung, and it describes the annoyance felt by someone who just wants to leave a party. Cara sings:

I would rather be at home all by myself not in this room

With people who don't even care about my well-being

I don't dance, don't ask, I don't need a boyfriend

So you can go back, please enjoy your party

I'll be here, somewhere in the corner under clouds of marijuana

As Cara's dusty voice continues singing, she begins to paint the picture of the worst party ever. She's too sober. Everyone else is too drunk. People are talking about inane things. And she's at this party, instead of doing what she wants to do, because she's experiencing the pangs of FOMO (fear of missing out) remorse:

But honestly I'd rather be

Somewhere with my people we can kick it and just listen

To some music with the message (like we usually do)

And we'll discuss our big dreams

How we plan to take over the planet

Cara went to this party in part because of FOMO and then ended up regretting that decision. She wasn't looking for a boyfriend, to get drunk, or to get attention. She just wanted a good time with friends. And now she's regretting her decision. But part of me believes Cara might not even be happy if she weren't at this party — that if she were at home with her friends, she still wouldn't even be having a great time.

Snakehips's "All My Friends" is a party anthem when you're the only sober one

"All My Friends" by Snakehips has the same kind of feeling Cara's stabbing at and pulls a bit of a bait and switch. The song came out in October.

It begins with a familiar smooth thump but it's quickly pierced by singer Tinashe's crystalline vocals. It's a little bit of a surprise. She sounds more excited than Cara does. But Tinashe is singing a similar tune. She's depressed, lonely, and feels like the only human at the club:

We open with the vultures, kissing the cannibals

Sure I get lonely, when I'm the only

Only human in the heaving heat of the animals

It's beautifully written, and at the same time kind of gnarly. In Tinashe's view, her fellow partygoers aren't acting like themselves, or anything that resembles human beings. Drugs and liquor have reduced them to animals. And they aren't cute animals like golden retrievers or a munchkin cat — they're vultures seeking their next meal.

It all comes into focus by the time the hook comes in. Tinashe gets a little backup, and the chorus belts out:

All my friends are wasted

And I hate this club

Man I drink too much

Another Friday night I wasted

My eyes are black and red

I'm crawling back to your bed

There's something deeper and more sinister in "All My Friends," relative to Cara's complaints in "Here." Being the only sober one among your drunk friends is a special kind of hell, but as Tinashe sings, we find out that she can't resist the temptation either. That even though she's having a terrible time and hates this club, she's still drinking to make her pain go away and eventually head home with the only reason she's there.

The beguiling thing is that the 3/4 tempo and bass line of "All My Friends" sounds somewhat cheery. But underneath that tempo, Tinashe's creamy vocals and a sharp verse by Chance the Rapper describe people who just want everyone to go home and stay home. They're not having fun here.

Hailee Steinfeld went to a party and got abandoned

I am not entirely sure when Hailee Steinfeld got old enough to go to parties, let alone parties with cocaine and prescription pills. It makes me cognizant of and quite alarmed by my own looming mortality. But it has happened, and she's apparently singing about the experience in her aggressively pleasant hit "Hell Nos and Headphones." The song debuted in October.

There's purposely a "Here"-like vibe to it, as Steinfeld recently told Elle:

I don't have to conform to being cool or to something I'm not. [Alessia Cara's] 'Here' really struck a chord with me. This does have the same message of realizing, 'It's cool that I was able to go and hang out with friends, but it was just not my night.'

Though Steinfeld says she was inspired by "Here", her song sounds more like a depressing sequel to Miley Cyrus's 2009 anthem "Party in the U.S.A." Like Cyrus, Steinfeld realizes she's at a kind of party that she's not used to. It's far worse. It's a party where everyone is doing drugs: She sings:

They all look me up and down like I'm the fucking new kid

But I saw the sun rise on this town way before you did

And they're all skiing in the powder room

Making love to Jack and Jameson

But I'll stick with hell nos and headphones

It's like the song wants to be the cool version of D.A.R.E. It feels a little too preachy and pleasant. What I don't quite understand is why Steinfeld is here. Is it FOMO? She sings:

And they're sending pictures, kissing on each other, like wasted
And on top on that, they're sending videos of them naked
But you know I don't judge what's on your tongue

It's totally FOMO. It's social media. It's thinking everyone out there is having a good time. But there's also the question of, who half-invited Hailee Steinfeld to a party?  Mistakes were made.

Have we finally turned down? Is FOMO dead?

While some of these introvert jams are more successful than others, they all feature the same theme: that parties can be terrible things. This is all in contrast to what we've been told and serenaded for years. And sure, these songs and ones like them could simply be a reaction to the party anthems that've been popular in the last decade or so.

But these songs also feel like a response to how we live our lives today.

At every party, there's someone Vining, Instagramming, Facebooking, tweeting, or Snapping every moment — and by doing so, they fossilize this one ideal pocket of time that comes to represent something more. Songs like "Here" or "All My Friends" peel back the layers of that idea, reminding us that not everyone had a great time at whatever party was supposed to be the biggest event of the year.

These songs are a solid affirmation that FOMO is overrated. That turning down for things like fresh sheets is totally worth it. And that there are millions of people who have figured it out, even though no one has really ever sung about it — until now.

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